The Human Microbiome & Your Overall Health
by David Perlmutter, M.D. Board-Certified Neurologist, #1 New York Times Best-Selling Author, Fellow of the American College of Nutrition
Believe it or not, our bodies are mostly bacteria. True, we have human cells, but our bacterial cells outnumber our human cells by 10-to-1 and these trillions of microbes, together with the products they create, as well as their genetic material, have come to be known as the human microbiome. Our microbiome plays an essential role in our health since it may be responsible for a variety of metabolic and developmental processes such as brain function, food digestion and vitamin synthesis. The truth is that when you feed yourself, you are also feeding the trillions of bacteria—hundreds of bacterial species— in your microbiome.
We like to call the microbiome a “garden of life,” since it’s filled with a variety of flora, including gut flora, also known as intestinal flora (bacteria) or gut microbiota, that requires nurturing with healthy food, nutrients and lifestyle choices in order to flourish and to support overall health. In fact, scientists have reason to believe that the kinds of bacteria that live in our guts play an important role in determining whether some people have extraordinary health and some have not-so-extraordinary health.
The good news is that the human microbiome is highly shaped by what you eat and your lifestyle habits because, like any thriving garden, your microbiome needs to be properly cultivated, fertilized, nourished and cared for.
Tend Your Microbial Garden
Tending your microbial garden can lead to greater health, including healthy digestion which is essential because every one of our cells, tissues and organs depends on nutrient absorption and assimilation of food via healthy digestion—and probiotics, enzymes and fiber are key players.
Before talking about probiotics, let’s discuss prebiotics.
They are specialized, indigestible plant fibers acting as “fertilizer” to promote existing good bacteria already in the gut and serve as “food” for probiotics—live bacteria promoting beneficial bacteria population in the gut.
Probiotics support healthy digestion, synthesis of vitamins, absorption of minerals, production of B vitamins and certain enzymes, immune health and much more. When we don’t get enough good bacteria—probiotics—there can be negative effects on digestion and overall health.
Digestive enzymes break down large food molecules into smaller units that can be absorbed by the blood and into cells so the body is properly nourished, while food enzymes are in raw, uncooked foods. You require a variety of enzymes, too, since different enzymes are necessary for full digestion.
Fibre creates a hospitable environment for friendly bacteria, but you need enough good bacteria for maximum fibre benefits. Fibre also normalizes transit time—how long it takes food to pass through the digestive tract. Another fibre perk is that various areas of the digestive tract absorb different, essential nutrients, and fibre helps to move foods’ nutrients to those areas so that your body can be properly nourished.
In short, probiotics, enzymes and fibre can lead to great digestion, and when your gut functions well, then you do, too. Among other things, a healthy gut is the gatekeeper for life-sustaining nutrients and protects us from any threats from the external environment. The digestive system is also home to up to 80 percent of immune system cells—the first line of defense for health.